Someone said recently that if we did not have so many problems in our human relationships, half the publishing companies would go out of business, most talk-shows would be off the air, and Country Music would be seriously devoid of songs! Can you imagine situation comedies without human conflict or the biting verbal exchanges between primary characters? Would Archie Bunker's chair be in the Smithsonian without the animosity he shared with his son-in-law, Michael Stivik --- or as most of us remember him, "the Meathead?"
This week continues the 2003 season of LENT and the Church's emphasis upon introspection and repentance. For Christians who take this season to heart, it becomes a time of repenting of self-centered acts, disobedience, and outright sin. While that IS appropriate, I think an additional perspective is in order, also. Rather than limiting our repentance to what we do, I think we might consider repenting of who we are --- particularly who we are to others! And, as we're doing so, we might consider the godly characteristics we want in our lives after repenting of the undesirable ones.
The tiny book of 3 John above furnishes us with an opportunity to do both this week. In this personal letter from the Apostle John to his friend, Gaius, we have displayed for us examples of helpful and harmful behaviors on the part of Christians in the Church. This is not some esoteric, philosophical discussion for John. It is a real, living situation in which the realities of life are played out in the lives of 3 men. Frankly, all of them are still with us today in virtually every one of our congregations!
Perhaps it is best to consider the negative example first. John speaks of Diotrephes and his distinct behaviors: "I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church." Get the picture? Diotrephes is an absolute JERK! His kind surrounds us today and the effects are still the same. Amazing, isn't it, that some people never seem to learn! The sins of Diotrephes are at least 3.
First, he rejects the fellowship and authority of godly spiritual leadership. He is a "lone ranger" Christian who seems to need no one else --- particularly no one who might threaten his self-appointed position in the congregation. Perhaps he is an Elder of a congregation himself; we aren't given all the details. One thing we DO know is that he rejects John and anyone else outside his local body. His type is still around today --- we hear them say idiotic things like, "I don't answer to anyone other than the Lord Jesus Himself!" or "No one can tell ME what to do!" In his heart, he has enthroned himself as the primary authority. He brooks no rivals and is in submission to no one.
John speaks of Diotrephes as "loves to be first," yet Jesus Himself said that the one who wanted to be first "should be the servant of all." We MUST reject the Diotrephes method of leadership and churchmanship!
Second, John says that Diotrephes "gossips maliciously about us." What a coward! People who gossip are cowards or worse. The Scriptures tell us that if we have a problem with another brother we are to "go and show him his fault, just between the two of you." It does take some degree of moral courage and risk. After all, when you confront a brother or sister in Christ, it might be YOU who is wrong and needs to repent! However, gossip is NEVER permitted in our Christian relationships!
Third, Diotrephes is not satisfied with his self-centered, hateful behavior --- he excommunicates other Christians who cross him --- he "puts them out of the church." He misuses his spiritual authority to serve his own ends. Now, excommunication IS a legitimate and commanded tool for the Elders in congregations to use when a brother or sister in Christ is guilty of egregious theological or immoral behavior and refuses to repent in spite of repeated injunctions by the authorities. It is NOT a tool for one's own vindictive retribution or persecution of those with whom one shares a personality conflict!
If we're not to be like Diotrephes, then whose behavior is a good example for us? Again, John furnishes us with two men whose behavior shines like the stars in the night as opposed to Diotrephes.
First, Gaius himself gives us a living picture of good, Christian characteristics. His name meant "rejoiced," and he is depicted in this letter as bringing great joy to John by "walking in the truth." There is no greater commendation of the Gospel to the lost world than the living example of those whose lives are permeated with the Gospel! The most pronounced affect of Gaius was that he lifted the spirits of brothers and sisters in Christ --- John included. It leads us to ask --- "Do we lift the spirits of others or do we depress them?" Notice, too, that Gaius' habit of lifting the spirits of others is linked with his being "faithful." There is no substitute for dependable Christians! In the deepest recesses of the heart, those who are faithful to God are blessed and happy, and those who are not faithful are sad!
Second, Demetrius is mentioned as being "well spoken of by everyone - and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true." You know, we can often fool ourselves for awhile, and we can fool others for a little while, too. However, sooner or later, what is in our hearts and what is real to us comes out! You just cannot hide your genuine, baseline commitments. Demetrius, by his behavior and faithfulness, had acquired a good reputation. Perhaps he was the bearer of this letter from John to Gaius; we don't know. What we DO know is that people liked and trusted him. He was a substantial person who earned the respect and Christian love he shared with brothers and sisters in Christ. AND --- notice that this was not limited to one congregation or location. Wherever he was, his conduct won over the hearts of those who knew him.
SO --- this week WHO WILL YOU BE? Repent of and avoid every vestige of Diotrephes. His attitude was bad and his behavior was sinful. Ask God to reproduce qualities we see in Gaius and Demetrius. Isn't it about time some of us started on a new road in our churches and lives? May God give us the insight to see ourselves as we really are and the strength to repent of all that is harmful to the covenant body of Christ and the Gospel!